Burt Reynolds only spent a few years on classic western series Gunsmoke, but even then it was clear he would become a movie star. Like fellow screen icon Clint Eastwood, Reynolds spent much of his early career paying his dues playing bit parts in b-movies and TV shows like The Twilight Zone and Perry Mason. While Eastwood’s first breakthrough came with a role on Rawhide, Burt’s came when he was cast in Gunsmoke.
Gunsmoke started life as a radio series before moving to TV, where James Arness – who played the titular monster in 1951’s The Thing From Another World – was cast as the main character Marshall Dillon. The first season of Gunsmoke debuted in 1955 and it ran for incredible 20 seasons, finally coming to an end in 1975. Arness stayed with the show for the entire time and later returned for a series of TV movies. While relatively tame by modern standards, the show was praised during its original run for being a little grittier and darker than the typical western.
Actors Dennis Weaver served as Marshal Dillon’s main sidekick Chester during the early years of Gunsmoke, but a new deputy was needed following his departure. This came in the form of Quint Asper, a mixed-race blacksmith played by Burt Reynolds. Discrimination against Quint’s Indian heritage formed the drama for a few of Reynolds’ episodes, but overall he was more of a supporting player to Dillon than a lead character.
Nevertheless, Reynolds’ natural charisma shined through on Gunsmoke, which also gave him the chance to flex his action muscles. When Reynolds joined the show during in 1962 he claimed he’d stick around until it ended, but by 1965 he was encouraged by a co-star to move on and focus on his movie career. He later left to take his first lead in a film on Operation C.I.A – a movie he later declared awful during his guest appearance on Archer. Quint essentially disappeared on Gunsmoke, though a fleeting reference was later made to his departure.
Reynolds’ true breakthrough came with 1972’s Deliverance, which led to a string of hits including Smokey And The Bandit, The Longest Yard, The Cannonball Run, and Sharky’s Machine, which he also directed. While his career would decline during the late 1980s, he still gave some great performances, though he famously detested Boogie Nights in spite of the acclaim both his performance and the movie received. Burt Reynolds was also supposed to appear as a character played by James Marsden in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, but those scenes were later cut. Burt Reynolds passed away at the age of 82 in 2018 but left behind a great legacy of work. While Gunsmoke’s Quint Asper isn’t the most memorable character of his long career, it was definitely an early sign he was ready for movie stardom.